After the January meeting, I emailed 3 topics of concerns to the school board:
- School board meetings are scheduled on the same evening as city council meetings
- The video and audio recording of January’s finance meeting were not posted
- School board members use personal email accounts for school business rather than school email accounts
The board president responded and we emailed back and forth. My emails are in black, the board president’s responses are in blue, and my thoughts are in italics.
(1) School Board Meeting Schedule
I would like to ask that you reschedule the February 7th meeting for a different day. There are many of us in the community who would like to be able to attend the city council meeting and the school board meeting. Like most months, both are scheduled for the same evening.
- Since moving the meetings to the first Monday of the month, we consistently have had better attendance than when the meeting was on a different evening. The meeting is live-streamed with a recording available in the event anyone would like to adjust the viewing of the meeting to better suit their schedule.
The large increase in school board meeting attendance over the past couple of years is likely because of community frustration over recent school board decisions and has little to do with the day of the week. But, you may be right that Monday evenings are better for community attendance than when the board held meetings on Wednesday evenings. However, If attendance is the board’s motivation for holding meetings on Monday evenings, why are you choosing the first Monday of the month at the same time as the city council meeting rather than one of the other Monday evenings? It seems clear that holding the school board meeting at the same time as city council meetings reduces community participation. I would like you to consider moving the February 7th meeting to a different evening and also consider adjusting the school board meeting calendar so that future board meetings do not conflict with city council meetings.
- It is important to recognize that your viewpoint is one of many we hear. It is our job as a board to serve every student in our schools with our actions. That is our common mission as a board and with our community. We determine our meeting schedule a year at a time based upon the academic calendar to allow for consistently spaced meetings, that establish a pacing that allows our central office staff and building administrators to balance their cyclical work flow and successfully work deadlines between ongoing and emergent needs within the schools in concert with provision of high quality information to the board. We as a school board work collaboratively with each other using this information to do the job of a school board member. The school board members, teachers, supporting technology and administrative personnel, as well as our central office administration all make a commitment to be prepared and present at each meeting, block our calendars and schedule our family and work obligations around those meeting dates. Any conversation about moving the meeting night would respectfully happen in the context of a year of planning and would necessarily consider the position of those of us required to attend to make the meeting happen. Of course, there is also concern for our community to have access to participate. It is unfortunate that this February meeting date is not a fit for your calendar. Fortunately, we have a recorded live stream option and I hope you will take advantage of that if you are not able to attend the school board meeting.
I understand that it would be difficult to change the school board meeting date on short notice. What I still don’t understand is why back in January 2016 you decided to change the school board meeting to the same time as the city council meeting and why you pushed to keep the school board meeting at the same time as the city council meeting when Dr.Yin proposed adjusting the meeting calendar to avoid this conflict at the June 2021 school board meeting.
- [No response]
The school board voted to move school board meetings to the same day as city council meetings in the December 2015 meeting. At that meeting, a school administrator and a union leader each made comments in support of the change, arguing that holding the meeting on a Monday (rather than a Wednesday) is best because there are fewer school related activities on Mondays. A community member spoke to point out that the proposed change conflicts with the already established city council meetings and said if Monday is the best day of the week for the meeting, then why not choose the 2nd Monday or the 3rd. No board member addressed this comment and then the board voted unanimously to approve holding school board meetings on the 1st Monday at the same time as city council meetings. Killion (former superintendent) said that the board would meet on the 1st Monday of each month on a trial basis and then would reevaluate at a future meeting. I have found no subsequent discussion of this issue until the June 2021 meeting (7:38) when Yin asks the board to consider changing school board meetings to another evening so they would not conflict with city council meetings. I think this is an important issue because holding school board meetings on the 1st Monday limits public participation.
(2) Finance Meeting Recording
Why is there no video or audio recording of the finance meeting on Monday?
- When the regular meeting was adjourned our technology staff mistakenly thought that was the end of the meetings for the night and shut off the live stream. Once stopped it is unable to be restarted. The audio was recorded and it will be posted for listening. My apologies for the inconvenience.
That’s too bad about the video recording being shut off, but the explanation makes sense. You said that the audio recording remained on and did record the finance meeting. However, the 2022-01-10 audio recording posted on the school website ends when the regular meeting is adjourned and does not include the finance meeting. Is there another file with the audio from the finance meeting?
- I am not sure what has happened with the audio recording. It is not as I was told it would be. I have asked the question and will forward a response when I get one.
Thank you for getting the financial meeting audio posted to the website.
I am grateful that the school board has now added the audio to the website so that those who could not attend can listen if they choose.
(3) Using Personal Email Accounts for School Business
Why do school board members use their personal emails for school business? Is there something that would prevent the school district from providing school board members with school district email addresses?
- At this time only school employees have school designated e-mails. Personal board member email addresses do not seem to create any barrier to our patrons contacting us, or in our ability to respond.
I believe that it is standard practice for school board members to use school email accounts for their school board business. For example, TSC board members all use school email accounts. WLCSC board members choosing to use personal email addresses rather than school email addresses limits public records requests for board member email communication related to a particular topic. Is there some other reason the board has chosen not to use school emails?
- I cannot speak to why another school corporation would choose school accounts versus personal board member accounts. It has been the practice of WLCSC to limit corporation e-mail accounts to corporation employees. From my own experience, I have served on the board for a little over eight years and as I mentioned before, have not found that it has caused any interruption of communications to me or impeded my ability to communicate to anyone else. This is the purpose of electronic communication. I am curious why your concern is for the ability to freely issue public records requests. Wouldn’t it be more constructive and collaborative to ask (just as you have here), if you have questions and would like clarification on any given topic?
You asked why I would want to be able to request email communication between school board members on a specific topic. The reason is that I have asked questions that have never been answered. For example, the school board approved to borrow $95 million instead of the less than $50 million that you told the community that you would spend on the construction at a series of public forums before construction began. There was never any discussion at a school board meeting. I’ve asked why you made this decision and I’ve asked why you decided to use lease agreements through a building corporation rather than asking the community to vote to approve the borrowing and I’ve never received an answer. I would like to know if any school board members were concerned about this decision to borrow about twice as much as you told the community. I would like to know who was pushing for this plan and who was just going along with it. Unfortunately, using private email for school board business and never discussing these decisions in a public meeting makes it impossible for community members to understand the reasoning behind the decision. This is just one example.
- We are working very hard as a board of seven elected members to work together as a team, pulling from our individual strengths, in concert with our new superintendent. It is our priority to move forward in a positive direction, with vigorous focus upon our students as a priority. I definitely invite you to be a part of that change for the good of our students and community.
This last response is pretty typical of the answers I’ve received when I have asked about school finances. The message is that I should focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past. My point is that our schools have 17 years of future debt payments that exceed debt service revenue which makes it impossible for our schools to borrow any additional funds for the next decade and a half. I don’t know if the school board members were too trusting of the administrators and just rubber stamped all the borrowing without having really thought it through or if school board members purposely designed the borrowing approach to try to hide it from the public.
One very positive thing that I’ve noticed is that since the beginning of 2022, Witt’s communications with me and others have become much more respectful. Perhaps being up for reelection in November is encouraging better behavior. This is a welcome change. I would prefer her communications to have more real content and show an interest in increasing public access to information.